8th EASA Conference, Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Vienna
September 8th to 12th, 2004
Face-to-face interaction, compliance and confrontation, the conditions
of intersubjectivity, identity/alterity in shifting contexts of distance
and proximity: these are the central dimensions of anthropological research
that we offer for discussion at EASA's 2004 conference in Vienna.
From a topical and theoretical perspective, categories of distance and proximity subsume diverse and often contradictory processes in today s world. This entails movements of people, objects, and meaningful forms, which unfold in new temporalities within specific places. Yet such interconnections are countered by essentialising practices and ideas, ranging from populism or fundamentalism to xenophobia and racism.
The EU itself, with its drive to integration and enlargement, represents a case in point. Increased interconnections go hand in hand with disjunctures, new hierarchies, sharply differentiated notions and essentialising practices.
From an epistemological and historical perspective, our theme refers to tropes and concepts of multiple identities, of selves and others, of mutual production, that inform and challenge many of today's anthropological discourses. Whilst mutually constitutive, alterity and identity are constantly in flux. Proximity being so elusive, distance is equally so: connecting them is as much an aim as a condition for anthropological enquiry.
In this context, the reflection upon our own interactions with other segments of global anthropology, both "close" and "distant", may in fact encourage some intellectual reassessment of European anthropology' s own historical roots in the social sciences. After all, face-to-face relations in contexts of proximity and distance explicitly relates to classic concepts such as "community", "society" or culture quite as much as to many of the more recently wrought concepts, such as civil society, imagined communities, or socialities.
Thirdly, "face-to-face" also points towards the sort of methodological concerns that, in ever renewed forms, continue to represent a central strength of our field. This third dimension of EASAs Vienna meeting will be designated "RECASTING ETHNOGRAPHIC PRESENCE".
Three focal perspectives are suggested:
- "Presence and the Visual", reflecting upon the visual
element in anthropological research in all its various dimensions
around film, video, photography as well as museums and material culture.
- "Ethnography the costs of success", highlights
the adoption of the term "ethnography" in many fields of the
social sciences outside anthropology, and aims to discuss the way anthropological
ethnography recasts itself in the face of new global conditions and
relates to other forms of research.
- "Metaphors of Ethnographic Practice", finally, reflects
upon how the long established metaphors about ethnography continue to
impose themselves upon anthropological writing.
In order to encourage the debate, we propose a series of themes that might
bring together workshops and motivate speakers:
- face to face interactions in today's changing world: movements,
interconnections, and disconnections simultaneously bring together people
who previously lived at a distance to each other, while also tearing
apart those who previously lived together;
- emerging forms of human socio-cultural diversity in changing
local and global, transnational contexts, as well as the problems, aspirations,
and potentials associated with redefining that diversity in political
or intellectual terms;
- processes of learning, mediation of ideas and practices, of
knowledge acquisition and usage, either based on conventional
forms of "face-to-face" interaction or increasingly relying
upon "distant" connections mediated by new technologies and
their modes of visualisation;
- discourse, communication and its limits associated to recently
developed, often asymmetric forms of globalising "face-to-face"
- "face-to-face" experiences of compassion and empathy,
but inversely also of conflict and confrontation, as strategies
of social existence.